Loving toughly | AspenTimes.com

Loving toughly

Roger MaroltAspen, CO Colorado

It is time for us to accept the great and manifest change that has occurred in Aspen. Our values and ideals in regards to private property in the Roaring Fork Valley must evolve. Gone are the days of romantic independence associated with land ownership within formerly wide-open expanses now laden with heavy investment.There isn’t a person living in or visiting this area who doesn’t immediately comprehend the limited amount of land available for development within the confines of the inhospitable mountains that guard us. Compounding the influences of severely limited supply, the unduplicated beauty of the natural surroundings and desirable culture within attract demand for space seemingly without limit.Our current ideas on property and its appurtenant rights stem from an era in which our country’s population was sparse and its potential land holdings abundant. Things have changed dramatically since then, especially in coveted mountain enclaves like Aspen. Views toward ownership of land, rather than adapting to change, have become less subject to questioning as land values have compounded.In the Roaring Fork Valley, real estate has become the local commodity most valued. Many reluctantly believe that it has supplanted ideology and lifestyle in worth. Any meddling with the allowable uses of land will thus have profound consequences. Apologetically, it is an area of law that we tread lightly around.It was once immoral to restrict a person’s use of his or her land because almost any use imaginable had much less possibility of affecting anybody else. Now, in this bustling part of the world, nearly every use of land affects others and all uses must be scrutinized. It is now immoral not to consider impacts that certain uses will have on neighbors, friends, and fellow citizens who have invested time, money and a their lives here.We do not often discuss moral law in the world of real estate. This would only serve to lower commissions; plus, no human being can legislate morality. None of us is pure enough in motivation to implement moral law, none of us is wise enough to judge fairly violations of the moral law, and none of us is honest enough to enforce the moral law equitably. Our forefathers were wise enough to note these limitations of humankind. But, this does not mean that the laws of society are superior.A person can obey every single law of this or any other nation and still be a bad person. However, no one can abide by moral law and be evil. This should suffice as proof as to which law is better suited to advancing the human race, and preserving the value of the real estate on which it lives, as the case may be.By any measure, religious or secular, the moral law boils down to what most of us know as the Golden Rule – treat all people like you want to be treated by them. It’s not ambiguous.The paramount difference between moral law and what is written in legalese is that the latter begs the question “can we do it?” while the former requires us to focus on the question “should we do it?” When the answer to each of these questions is vastly contradictory, the laws need realignment. As the moral law is constant and unalterable, the written law must be modified or fortified to give a more copacetic result.Can 1 million square feet of new construction be undertaken in Snowmass Base Village over the next 10 years? Yes. Can the Mother Lode be razed and replaced? Of course. Can most of the town’s tourist accommodation base be converted to fractional ownership? Sure. Can the Red Onion be remodeled to leave only a shell of an historic relic in its place? Undoubtedly, the answer is yes. But, for our continued prosperous existence, should any of this happen?What is the long-term effect of these projects on all of us, including the property owners who are momentarily advocates of these alterations? How does the current law, and the recent manipulations of it, protect property owners who are not interested in selling today, along with those wishing to call Aspen home tomorrow? This is the majority constituency.No one that has traced the history of property values here can effectively argue that restrictive land use codes and zoning laws have ever caused distress to land values. To the contrary, these restrictions are the very reason that we are here today fervently arguing over million-dollar properties rather than disinterestedly discussing those worth far less. Knowing this, it is absolutely perplexing to hear people rallying against such protective law now. Even more puzzling are local politicians’ willingness to accommodate them. It is disingenuous to reap the benefits of price escalation caused by decades’ worth of strict growth control, only to rail against these measures on the eve of cashing in on a sale.Any real estate developer, broker, civic leader or citizen who is unwilling to challenge the outdated notion of the personal right to do with property whatever one might imagine without regard for any greater good to the community, is either a fool or seeking short-term profit at the loss of a much more encompassing long-term gain. The minute the dubious argument of preserving liberty in the name of that cause is made here, the pleader should become seriously suspect.The biggest mistake we have recently made in managing our land use code is in being too lenient. We let them tear down the Paepcke House and have been thwarted in our efforts since to preserve the Victorian charm that made us desirable. We let them gut the Isis and then couldn’t say no to the Mother Lode plan. We have allowed the Limelight to punch through our height restriction, and I’m doubtful that this will lead to better things in our future.With all of these allowances, we set precedent. The one true protection our Constitution offers us in regard to property is from the arbitrary extraction of value from it by a capricious government. Once we say “yes” to a variance, we cannot in good conscience say “no” to the next person asking for the same thing. Once this granting process begins, it is extremely difficult to reverse. The better course of action is to create a formula for strict preservation of what we have, based upon the experience that has allowed us to arrive at and fall in love with this place. Then, as a community, we must passionately support it, one and all, in every single instance.Roger Marolt believes that rules are made to be enforced, and the stricter the better. He’ll tell you where the Golden Goose is if you ask at roger@maroltllp.com